“The prevalence is off the charts” in Australia, said Dr. Robert Gallo, co-founder and director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, whose laboratory was the first to detect HTLV-1 in 1979 and publish the finding in 1980.
Yet “nobody that I know of in the world has done anything about trying to treat this disease before,” said Gallo, who is also co-founder and scientific director of the Global Virus Network and chairs the network’s HTLV-1 Task Force.
“There’s little to almost no vaccine efforts, outside of some Japanese research,” he said. “So prevention by vaccine is wide open for research.”
HTLV-1 is a human retrovirus that mainly infects the CD4+ T cell. Such Infections can lead to a host of immune-related diseases including leukemia. Somewhat counterintuitively, the virus thrives by remaining at very low levels in the body, which is unlike its more notorious cousin, HIV.
“HTLV-1 RNA is rarely detected in the plasma of infected individuals, and it persists by evading host immune surveillance,” says Jun-ichirou Yasunaga of Kyoto University’s Institute for Frontier Life and Medical Sciences, who led the study.
Lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes)
Nausea and vomiting
Skin and bone abnormalities
Enlarged liver and/or spleen
Roughly .25-2% of people with HTLV-1 will develop HAM/TSP, a chronic, progressive disease of the nervous system. Signs and symptoms of this condition vary but may include:
There are approximately 10–20 million HTLV-I carriers in the world
Japan, parts of central Africa, the Caribbean basin and South America. In addition, epidemiological studies of HTLV-I have revealed high seroprevalence rates in Melanesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon islands, as well as among Australian aborigines . In Japan, approximately 1.2 million individuals are estimated to be infected by HTLV-I, and more than 800 cases of ATL are diagnosed each year . Moreover, this virus also causes the neurodegenerative disease, HTLV-I-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP) [14, 15]. The cumulative risks of ATL among HTLV-I carriers in Japan are estimated to be about 6.6% for men and 2.1% for women, indicating that most HTLV-I carriers remain asymptomatic throughout their lives
h/t Goofy for God